11 January 2007

It's Not Coming, It's Here Now: The Local Media Starts On the Stadium Deal

Yesterday I wrote about how a brief (and pleasant) conversation with Marc Fisher convinced me that the local media would soon turn its attention to the proposed D.C. United stadium at Poplar Point, and how I think that debate needs to be considered. To some degree I was trying to get a head-start on what has the potential to be a highly charged situation. Well, guess who has chimed in on the topic today? From our friend Marc:

City and federal officials expect that tiff will be worked out, at which point Fenty will have to explain why it's not okay for the city to pay cash for a stadium, but it is okay for the city to give United's principal owner, Victor MacFarlane, or Snyder control over valuable riverfront land.

Now, we know that the answer to this question is that MacFarlane, once a proposal is out, is going to show that giving him control of the land provides a very good return on investment to the city. But wait! What about the people who live there already?

Council member Marion Barry, whose Ward 8 is home to the soccer stadium site, is even more welcoming: "There's a commitment from the mayor and myself to assist in building not only a stadium, but $800 million to $1 billion in housing, retail and office development at Poplar Point," he told me. "We're talking about up to 2,500 units of housing" with at least 30 percent reserved for affordable housing.

Man, both major points we raised yesterday, and we can already see that they're coming into play. But what I wrote yesterday about all the facts in the world not being good enough for some people still holds true, and Marc has done us a service and stepped forward to personify that role:

The bottom line, however, is that this kind of giveaway is no more fair to the taxpayer than the baseball deal. As expensive and messy as that process was, at least it involved some competition for the rights to develop the area around the ballpark. In a perfect world, baseball's owners should have footed the cost of the stadium.

Really? This "giveaway" (a "giveaway" where the owners of D.C. United are expected to put up some significant amounts of cash) is not more fair to the tax payer than the MLB deal in which the City was put on the hook for everything? Is it unfair to the taxpayer that the city and MacFarlane convert Poplar Point to tax-generating real estate? Is it unfair to the taxpayer that more affordable housing is established in a mixed usage community? Now, perhaps Mr. Fisher has a point, but by placing the D.C. United proposed stadium deal (details pending) next to the Nationals stadium deal (Details well known, and putting the city on the hook for a ton) and concluding that they are the same deal to the taxpayers of DC is hyperbole of the laziest form. And that's just the point. When you can't argue the facts, or the law... well, that's a cliche. A cliche because it is true. And a cliche that neatly answers another cliche which poses as a column in today's Post.

A few quick notes: Not to pile on (okay, to pile on, let's be honest), Fisher seems to have missed the sports blogging community that showed up at the WaPo Summit. So let me assure you that both Nationals' bloggers and fellow soccer bloggers (Nice to have met you I-66) were both there, and we even had a few vocal moments. Maybe it's just that because of all this stadium stuff, he considers us political blogs now. Also, yesterday's writing seems to have spawned a relevant thread on Big Soccer. While the confluence of politics and Big Soccer posters seems to more volatile then dropping a Free Republic writer in the middle of DC Indymedia, they are keeping their heads over there. Think clearly, think rationally, make the case, and this will see us through. And remember, we're not sure of anything, even our own right, until we can see the details on the table. The indications are good that D.C. United is doing the right things, but they are only indications. Once we see the plan we'll know better. But to instantly dismiss things out of hand is... saddening, but not surprising.

Update: As is the case when anyone who is the subject of one of our posts leaves a comment, we like to point it out at a high level to give them an equal platform. So while Mr. Fisher has yet to comment on today's post, he does leave a comment on our writings from yesterday:

As my column today notes, the stadium is a great idea and if MacFarlane is paying for it, he should be welcomed just as Abe Pollin was when he volunteered to cough up the cash for the MCI Center. But the giveaway of riverfront land to MacFarlane's group for the hotel, housing and other parts of the development is another story entirely--and that's where the political battle will and should rage.

Fair enough. But his column today is a gross oversimplification of the facts, and is entirely premature. He's probably correct in what he says, which is where the battle will be fought. But to reach a conclusion, as he seems to have done in his column today, seems to be jumping the gun. C'mon Mr. Fisher... let's see what offers are made first, shall we? I think the indications are that a fair deal will be put out there. As for criticizing a give-away, well, I'd be more concerned if there was an abuse of eminent domain to obtain the land for the developers as a giveaway. This doesn't strike me as egregious at all.

There are all sorts of other things that need to be said. I hope to get to them.

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At 11 January, 2007 10:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Think clearly, think rationally, make the case, and this will see us through."

I love the optimism, but I don't really think that this has much to do with policits, especially DC politics.

At 11 January, 2007 11:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I don't understand why a land giveaway at that location is such a big deal. Are other developers clamoring for a piece of that east-of-the-river pie? Is there an east-of-the-river pie? What are the alternatives? Another sketchy, amenity-free riverside park that no one ever uses?

At 11 January, 2007 11:38, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fisher's is a classic whinge from people who do not understand real estate development.

The city is not giving away money by letting MacFarlane et al develop the land around the stadium. Yes, they would be giving a significant concession by paying for some infrastructure and granting a TIF, but it is not in the same, forgive the pun, ballpark as the Baseball deal.

The thinking by Fenty and other leaders, quite correctly, is that it will be an economic development tool to spur more improvements in Ward 8. What Fisher fails to grasp, and he isn't alone, is that the land has no "huge" monetary value until it is developed and is generating revenue. It is very difficult to sell property based on the value of what they buyer is going to build on it.

The return the city will have is an increased tax base, physical improvements to a disused area of the waterfront, improved prospects for Ward 8, and the beginnings of a real cross-river connection for the city.

At 11 January, 2007 11:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One other thought. It seems that Fisher believes that there could be a bidding war over the land if the city subjected it to an open RFP process. He might be right, but any buyer would certainly demand what the city seems close to granting DC United Holdings, and many cases they would demand more.

At 11 January, 2007 15:19, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marc Fisher is an idiot, I don't know why we continue to read his drivel. He would much rather DCU move to Montana than admit DCU has a good loyal following.
He mentions "And if the city blows up RFK after the Nats finish with it this fall". Has anyone else ever heard the city was considing tearing down RFK this fall?? I know RFK's future days are numbered but I have never heard this fall.


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